Book review: New Ways of Seeing (Grant SCOTT)
by Allan LEONARD
21 February 2021
We read books of fiction and non-fiction, and may acquire a respect for how difficult it is to create such works ourselves. We are taught how to read the written word, and by practising reading, tend to appreciate its transformative power. The novel we re-read. The poem that lifts our spirits. The biography that provokes empathy. We call it literacy — to communicate effectively and make sense of the world.
But we don’t respect imagery as such, as our fingers flick scroll a feed of captured moments of light, with the camera having evolved from a click of a shutter to a button press of a mobile phone app.
Yes, we are all photographers, in as much as anyone who posts a tweet is a writer.
Just as we learn styles of writing and some of us have a go at these forms ourselves, there are types of image making. Scott explains that it’s no surprise that we are relatively visually illiterate, as this discipline is generally not taught in school. Yet with so many young people creating so many images with their phones, he suggests that it’s all the more reason we should introduce some teaching.
Scott covers some essential ground of visual literacy in the book’s first-person narrative style. His weekly podcast, A Photographic Life, will help the reader hear his friendly and sincere tone of voice in his written word. He doesn’t shy away from controversy, however, whether it’s debating whether a mobile phone is a camera (yes; it records images) or whether only photographers who are paid for their work can call themselves “professional” (it’s snobbery; we’re all photographers, sometimes commissioned for work).
Scott explains how digital photography has democratised the craft, with ensuing debates between those with analogue experience and digital natives. What is more significant, he argues, is visual language. Whether your images are captured on film or a sensor, what do they say? The mobile phone enables us to more easily “take snaps”, but Scott wants us to see this alternatively as making visual notes. He encourages his students (and the rest of us) to use social media platforms such as Instagram to share such #photosketching.
But like a rough draft of a written essay, you need to learn what makes a good visual narrative. It is rarely a single image; rather, think more about how filmmakers use storyboards. Scott encourages you to develop a fluency of visual thinking and a confidence of expressing your visual voice.
What this non art student especially appreciated from this compact volume of visual art wisdom was its openness and welcome to all, as reflected in the book’s subtitle, The Democratic Language of Photography. In News Ways of Seeing, Scott lays out an environment for us to better understand how we can make images — I’ll call it “scribing light” — for visual storytelling.